[asthma] When breathing becomes the major focus

I had undiagnosed asthma years before anyone, including me, figured out that I had it.  One factor was that my asthma, silly thing that it is, didn’t present itself as wheezing but as coughing, otherwise known as cough-variant asthma.  In my teen years I had what appeared to be a nervous throat-clearing/coughing tic that annoyed the heck out of my family and elicited comments about knocking it off but was, in retrospect, asthma.  I’d also wake up in the middle of the night, coughing and gasping for breath (sleeping on a feather mattress with feather pillows) more nights than I care to admit, panicked and afraid because I Just.  Couldn’t.  Breathe.  At the time we thought it was just sinus stuff (at this point I was also presenting with allergic nosebleeds) and I took a lot of Actifed and Chloro-Trimeton, both of which addressed the sinus allergies but didn’t do squat for the asthma.  In fact, one doctor’s dosing schedule overdosed me to the degree that I couldn’t stay awake for classes after lunch, which included an algebra class.  And the drying action of those meds only made the asthma worse.

The only time I showed up with classic wheezing asthma was the day I started wheezing in the junior high PE locker room while changing after class.  Fortunately my teacher at the time realized there was an issue and stayed with me.  It had been a hot, stuffy and polluted day and I’d gone out and run hard in class.  Eventually I stopped wheezing without the benefit of rescue inhaler, rescue meds, or anything of that ilk.  I was lucky.  Other people have died in similar situations.

Eventually I got diagnosed in 1992, after multiple attempts to try and figure out what was going on.  Cough-variant asthma is wickedly difficult to initially identify, especially when it turned out that food (wheat, dairy, eggs) was as much of a trigger as were my other sinus respiratory triggers (smoke, some scents, mold and pollens).  It took the use of peak flow meters and mucus production to the degree that my lungs felt awash in liquid to get the diagnosis.

The diagnosis turned my life around.  I’m more active now than I used to be, and the addition of Singulair and inhaled steroids (lung and nasal) means that 95% of the time, I’m able to keep on top of things and can tolerate small exposures to triggers such as cigarette smoke which used to send me reeling (I had to give up going to indoor music venues for many years and even outdoor venues used to possess a pattern of negotiating with smokers around me because people Just.  Didn’t. Get. It. that lighting up might be a right for them, but was depriving me of a pleasure that I’d paid just as much money as they had to enjoy.  Moving away from the smoker was not a solution because then I’d just find myself next to another one.  The current nonsmoking trend has done wonders for my social life).

Still, springtime with pollen is always a dangerous time.  Add in the nature of the current Day Jobbe (middle school teaching), and, more often than not, I get clobbered with an end-of-the-school-year respiratory crud.  Some years I can manage to hold the crud at bay until after my last day at school (I can’t even begin to describe the excruciating negotiations with the body that can take sometimes, the delicate balance of OTC/prescription meds as well as various teas and such to help things along).  Other years the combination of pollen blooms, end-of-school-year stress, and virulent bugs means I get pulled down before the end of the year.  Nonetheless, any year where I can manage to a.) survive without taking time off from work (absolutely rotten time of year to get sick because of the need to wrap up all the paperwork, end-of-year-sped assessments, close files, grading, etc) and b.) go without a Prednisone burst is a win.

This year I think I earned a semi-win.  I really started having problems about Wednesday, but struggled through that day.  Thursday and Friday were colored by the darkness of “oh hai, breathing Is. Not. Good.” (cough, cough, cough, barely swallow, ears closing down).  When the breathing starts to go, the mood crashes.  Lack of oxygen and all that, y’know.  The dance between antihistamine, rescue inhaler and decongestant became more urgent. My mood got darker.

Friday night I came home and collapsed.  At that point I knew it was a dance between keeping the stuff out of my lungs (i.e, keeping the lungs as asthma only and not an infection) and the eventual gut revulsion (unfortunately, at some point in the dance my gut will rebel.  Decongestants upset it.  So do antihistamines.  So does albuterol over a certain amount).  Until the gut rebelled, I planned to attack the system with the stuff that would clear the ears and keep the lungs open.

Eventually the gut rebelled on Saturday.  But by that point I’d also managed to crest the worst of the infection.  The rains also kicked in to reduce the pollen.

I was worthless all weekend.  Well, I did get three volumes of Poul Andersen’s Polosotechnic League stories read, along with some other good stuff.  But for the most part, I spent the time from about 4 pm Friday until now flat on the bed, coughing and moaning like a zombie.  Still, I appear to have recovered enough to function this week, albeit at about half-speed (which means I might visit horse tonight but no riding, no working out for a couple more days).  Hopefully the Scotch Broom around work will have diminished in pollen vigor over the weekend (Scotch Broom and cottonwoods are the last big seasonal triggers and both were clobbering me last week).  As long as I can keep infection at bay, I might just have a fighting chance at making it through the next week and a half.

No guarantees about the degree of collapse that will happen when it’s done, though.  But by then it’s my own time.  Just gotta make it through until then.

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